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[1839 Autograph Letter Signed by Alexis de Tocqueville concerning the Publication of his Report made to the Chamber of Deputies on the Abolition Slavery in the French Colonies].
[1839 Autograph Letter Signed by Alexis de Tocqueville concerning the Publication of his Report made to the Chamber of Deputies on the Abolition Slavery in the French Colonies].

[1839 Autograph Letter Signed by Alexis de Tocqueville concerning the Publication of his Report made to the Chamber of Deputies on the Abolition Slavery in the French Colonies].


1839 Letter by Alexis de Tocqueville, author of the influential book Democracy in America, here writing as a member of the French Chamber of Deputies and discussing the publication of his Report…on the Abolition of Slavery in the French Colonies, published that year.

Tocqueville was an ardent abolitionist having been a member of the Société française pour l’abolition de l’esclavage (French Society for the Abolition of Slavery) since 1835. He served on a French parliamentary commission investigating questions relating to slavery and, as its official Reporter, wrote the commission’s final report proposing the general, rather than gradual, abolition of slavery in the French colonies.

Writing here to Hippolyte Passy (1793–1880), late President of the Chamber of Deputies and a proponent of gradual abolition, Tocqueville mentions that he has received the printer’s proofs of his Report for the chamber’s minutes and expresses fear that it will not be separately published as promised and sent to each member of the Chamber. He asks Passy’s help in rectifying the problem:

I sent you, about 15 days or three weeks ago my report on the abolition of slavery. The proofs of this work were not transmitted to me until yesterday by the printer of the chamber [Chamber of Deputies]. The latter attached to these documents a letter in which I read: that the Report should only appear in the minutes (6th N) and that it will not be made, as of content, [for] a separate distribution. I believe it is my duty, Mister President, both on my own behalf and on that of the committee as a whole and of many of our colleagues to call very strongly against such a resolution. It had been formally agreed that my report, immediately after being drawn up, would be printed separately and sent to the home of each of the Gentlemen Deputies. You were kind enough to tell me yourself that you would hold your hand to make it so. The Gentlemen Ministers had seemed to wish that this route was adopted so that the very difficult question which is dealt with in the Report, could be examined at leisure and carefully weighed by our colleagues during their present retirement. I therefore believe, Mr. President, that the printer of the chamber has made a mistake which I would ask you to correct. (approx. translation)

Though Tocqueville’s July 1839 Report was never debated in the Chamber of Deputies, it was printed that year in Paris, along with the minutes, by its official printer, A. Henry.¹ It was also issued as a pamphlet by the Société française pour l’abolition de l’esclavage and was printed in an English translation in Boston in 1840.

It is interesting to note that the second volume of Tocqueville’s Democracy in America was also published in America, in New York, in 1840. Having been an eyewitness to American slavery in 1831–1832 and, no doubt, having encountered justifications for slavery during that time, Tocqueville’s 1839 Report began: “It has been sometimes assumed that Negro Slavery had its foundation and justification in nature herself. It has been declared that the slave-trade was a benefit to its unfortunate victims; and that the slave was happier in the tranquillity of bondage, than in the midst of the agitation and the struggles that accompany independence. Thank God, the [French Parliamentary] Commission has no such false and odious doctrines to refute. Europe has long since discarded them. They cannot serve the cause of the colonies, and can only injure those planters who still uphold them.”²

In 1840, Tocqueville and Passy joined a second parliamentary commission; its 1843 report offered a divided view on the abolition of slavery, offering both general and gradual emancipation options. Slavery was not abolished in the French colonies until 1848, at which time Tocqueville, approaching the end of his political career, served on another parliamentary commission then dealing with the issue of indemnity for former slaveholders. It should further be noted that Passy, like Tocqueville, had traveled to America. There he witnessed the horrors of slavery which shaped his anti-slavery stance.

A significant letter regarding the publication of a French legislative report on the abolition of slavery written by an important political observer and theorist.


Original French text:

Monsieur le Président,

Je vous ai envoyé, il y a environ 15 jours ou trois semaines mon rapport sur l’abolition de l’esclavage. Les épreuves de ce travail ne m’ont été transmises que hier par l’imprimeur de la chambre. Ce dernier a joint à ces pièces une lettre où je lis: que le Rapport ne doit figurer que dans le procès-verbal (6ème N) et qu’il n’en sera pas fait, comme de contenu, une distribution séparée.

Je crois devoir Monsieur le Président, tant en mon nom qu’en celui de la commission toute entière et d’un grand nombre de nos collègues réclamer très vivement contre une pareille résolution. il avait été formellement convenu que mon rapport, aussitôt après être tiré, serait imprimé à part et transmis à domicile à chacun de MM les députés. Vous aviez bien voulu me dire vous même que vous tiendriez la main à ce qu’il en fut ainsi. MM les Ministres avaient paru désirer que cette marche fut adoptée afin que la question très difficile qui est traitée dans le rapport put être examiné à loisir et murement pesé par nos collègues, durant leur retraite présente. Je pense donc Monsieur le Président, que l’imprimeur de la chambre a commis une erreur que je vous prie très justement de rectifier.

Veuillez agreer, je vous prie, Monsieur le Président, ... de ma ... consideration.

Alexis de Tocqueville
Deputé de la Manche
Tocqueville par St. Pierre-Église
1 8ème 1839

P.S. il avait été convenu également qu’on ouvrirait aux Députés que le Rapport et non le procès verbal qui y est joint.


English translation (approx.)

Mr. President,

I sent you, about 15 days or three weeks ago my report on the abolition of slavery. The proofs of this work were not transmitted to me until yesterday by the printer of the chamber [Chamber of Deputies]. The latter attached to these documents a letter in which I read: that the Report should only appear in the minutes (6th N) and that it will not be made, as of content, [for] a separate distribution.

I believe it is my duty, Mister President, both on my own behalf and on that of the committee as a whole and of many of our colleagues to call very strongly against such a resolution. It had been formally agreed that my report, immediately after being drawn up, would be printed separately and sent to the home of each of the Gentlemen Deputies. You were kind enough to tell me yourself that you would hold your hand to make it so. The Gentlemen Ministers had seemed to wish that this route was adopted so that the very difficult question which is dealt with in the Report, could be examined at leisure and carefully weighed by our colleagues during their present retirement. I therefore believe, Mr. President, that the printer of the chamber has made a mistake which I would ask you to correct.

Please accept, Mr. President, ... of my ... consideration.

Alexis de Tocqueville
Deputy of Manche
Tocqueville near St. Pierre-Église
1 8th [August] 1839

P.S. It had also been agreed that the Report would be opened to Deputies and not the minutes attached to it.


Description: [1839 Autograph Letter Signed by Alexis de Tocqueville concerning the Publication of his Report made to the Chamber of Deputies on the Abolition Slavery in the French Colonies].

[Tocqueville near St. Pierre-Église [France]: August 1, 1839.  [1½] pp. Bifolium. Sq. 8vo. Written in French; with transcription and an approx. English translation. Folds; trimmed at top edge and closely at fore-edge; very good.

[3729803]

Notes. 1. Rapport fait Au nom de la Commission chargée d’examiner la Proposition de M. de Tracy, relative aux Esclaves des colonies, par M. A. De Tocqueville, Député de la manche. Séance du 23 Juillet 1839 [(No. 201.) Chambre des Députés. 2e Session 1839] ([Paris], 1839), 98pp. 2. Tocqueville, Report made to the Chamber of Deputies on the Abolition Slavery in the French Colonies (Boston, 1840), p[5].

Refs. Jardin, Tocqueville, A Biography (New York, 1989), p306. Rodriguez, ed., Encyclopedia of Emancipation and Abolition in the Transatlantic World, pp525–526. Soliana (Editor) Economic Thought and Institutional Change in France and Italy, 1789–1914. A Comparative Study. (Springer, 2016).


Price: $3,500.00